ESPN’s Jemele Hill returns to work today, after serving a two-week suspension for controversial tweets violating the network’s social media guidelines on Sept. 11 and Oct. 8.
The sports journalist, who co-hosts ESPN’s SportsCenter, first came under fire in September, when she called President Trump a “white supremacist who has surrounded himself with other white supremacists.” Hill also called Trump the “most ignorant, offensive president of [her] lifetime,” a “bigot” and “unqualified and unfit to be president.”
Despite issuing an apology for her tweets, which “painted ESPN in an unfair light,” Hill took to the social media platform again in early October when she encouraged “paying customers” to “boycott” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ advertisers in light of the NFL kneeling controversy.
“If they don’t kneel, some will see them as sellouts,” Hill said in a series of tweets from her personal account. “By drawing a line in the sand, Jerry put his players under more scrutiny and threw them under the bus. If the rationale behind JJ’s stance is keeping the fan base happy, make him see that he has underestimated how all of his fan base feels.”
“In the aftermath, all employees were reminded of how much individual tweets may reflect negatively on ESPN and that such action would have consequences,” a network spokesman said in a statement on Hill’s suspension. “Hence this decision.”
As Hill returns from a break she calls “reflective,” the lesson she claims to have learned is one we should all remember in this era of social media; it’s all about respect.
Employees of companies like ESPN are held responsible, not only for the content they post on their personal accounts but also for the audience their posts reach and the potential effects of an improper post. Hill was not respecting her position at ESPN, nor the network in general when she encouraged her Twitter followers to boycott NFL advertisers, and consequently, the network for which she works.
While speech is legally protected, Hill and anyone else who posts on social media accept the risk of criticism from the public and responses from employers when they publish their thoughts for the world to see. Despite Hills tweets being said off the air and having no affiliation with ESPN, she is still a representative of the company and therefore, her unprofessional and reckless comments about President Trump and the NFL controversy reflect directly back on the network.
In a society where even our president takes to Twitter to debate political thought and protest, it is difficult to know where to draw the line between spitting out quick-witted responses on social media and discussing important issues in a mature and composed manner. And, with professionals in the athletic industry wanting to blur the line between sports and political commentary, it can be easy to forget the potential consequences of making such provocative claims.
Whether Hill will keep this in mind the next time she publishes a series of tweets from her personal account is yet to be seen, but as Virginia Tech student Riley Wyant reminds us, there are more productive ways to use social media than petitioning for political and social change in such impulsive ways. “Don’t like the president? Think he’s a white supremacist? Call your state representatives and other political influences in your area instead of putting your corporation in a bad light.”